The following are broad brush strokes of my personal outlooks about the epoch I have lived and strived in. I leave the descriptive details of events and facts to professional historians. The 1974 revolution that replaced the Imperial Regime gave birth to an era of terror and lawlessness. Since then Ethiopian history has been subject to many interpretations according to the ideological, political and personal persuasion of the narrator. Although a lot of well researched books and papers have been published by Ethiopian and foreign authors alike, there is also a lot of writing that borders the surreal, particularly by political bodies and their members. Assumptions, speculations, misquotations, fabrications and exaggerations make poor history.
In my view Ethiopian history has changed by somersault during the past nine decades, especially after the Italian invasion of 1935. The post Menilik period was a time of internal contentions, the Lij Yassu regency concluded with the crowning of Empress Zewditu Minilik with the crown passing to Emperor Haile Sellassie on her death. Thus began the embryonic modernization of Ethiopia’s polity with Haile Sellassie pursuing Minilik’s policies, introducing a western education system and other modern reforms. A written Constitution was adopted, and Ethiopia became a full-fledged member of the League of Nations. The 1930 Constitution marked the beginning of a constitutional form of government and the end of feudalism, which was abolished further by the Italian occupiers who introduced a colonial administration system. Although the occupation lasted only a turbulent five years, it changed radically all aspects of the Ethiopian way of life. Primarily to consolidate their occupation and secure the future development of the colony, the Italians built a network of roads and infrastructures throughout the country. This factor revolutionized the traditional political, social and economic structure of the nation, by facilitating large population movements and commercial exchange amongst the various provinces. A uniform system of governance was also introduced, transforming radically the feudal relationship between the rulers and the people.
The post liberation era 1941/1973 was a time of reestablishing the state and keeping the integrity of the nation. Thanks to the popularity of the Emperor and patriots forces the country remained united. Starting with establishing a new government administration the challenge was extremely onerous, there was no money but a small loan granted by the British; there was no trained personnel but a handful people with formal education; no equipment of any kind as the British forces had taken away anything movable even office and household furniture; all Italians were also evacuated, depriving us of some technical labor. In spite of some difficulties created by the British in the early years, by 1960 the government was firmly established. Organic Laws were codified; National Bank and National Currency, Ethiopian Commercial Bank, Ethiopian Airline, Highway Authority, Telecommunications’ Board and many other institutions and structural changes were made. Eritrea was united with the motherland and Ethiopia had regained a direct access to the sea.
However, the political system did not evolve according to the innovations the country underwent with its socio-economic development and its large exposure to the world. Addis Ababa had become the HQ of the OAU, the ECA and of many International organizations, increasing the country’s role in world affairs. Nevertheless, domestically all powers remained centered with the Emperor, all officials were by appointment and the Parliament although partially elected was actually an advisory body with limited prerogatives. The Emperor, lulled by his worldwide popularity was more focused on world affairs than those of the interior. The first shock came in 1960 with the Mengistu Newaye attempted coup d’etat, that culminated with the senseless murder of some of the most important leaders whose voice influenced all Imperial decisions. Unfortunately, neither the Emperor nor his government learned much from this tragic event, although the country was fermenting with discontent from all classes of society, things went on as usual. Triggered by the famine in Wollo this period climaxed with the 1974 revolution, spearheaded by students and joined by the military. To their credit the Emperor and all high officials surrendered peacefully all powers to the revolutionary, although their peaceful surrender did not prevent their eventual assassinations.
Thus, began the Ethiopian tragic Odyssey. The revolution had started with a lot of ignorance and good intentions by most of the student’s movements, slogans such as “land to the tiller” had some popular appeal, although land ownership in Shoa, Wollo, Begemdir, Tigray and Gojiam was already communal, and it was a matter of returning to the rest the ownership to the “tiller” that was already in place, in his ancestral land. The actual intention was to disown the people of any property, and have full control of the peasantry that consisted of eighty-five percent of the population. The same goes to the campaign of “Idget Behibret”, whereby high school teenagers were dispersed around the country to foster a development nobody knew about including its authors. Again this was contrived to break-up the student movement from growing into a political force on its own. It was also a malefic program contrived to denigrate the middle class. Thus, whole generations of youngsters were thrown into an unplanned and disorganized foray, where many were diseased, raped, maimed and perished.
The revolution turned into a murderous struggle for power amongst the revolutionary themselves, one faction allying themselves with the ignorant and uncouth military subalterns and providing them with some half-backed Marxist political notions. Eventually, the military took over all powers after a campaign of terror and mayhem in which thousands of innocent young people lost their lives; millions lost their livelihood, their property and even a modicum of basic rights. The governance of the country fell to a regime with no moral compulsion of any kind, but brute force and unbound lawlessness. After seventeen years of misrule that destroyed and tainted the historical and traditional values of Ethiopia, maligned its institutions and cultural vestiges, denigrated its defense establishment; the country was left totally bankrupt to the vagaries of an ill fated future.
The power vacuum left by the Derg regime was replaced by an ethnic cabal in the guise of an alliance with other liberation movements led by the TPLF. Admittedly, they fought and won the battle on the ground, but they also abandoned their Marxist leaning for some sort democratic platform that won them the support of the US and other powers and institutions, without giving up their ruthless and corrupt governance. They have conceded to the independence of Eritrea, thus land-locking Ethiopia, and have transferred a large amount of national territory to the Sudan. The ownership of the land having passed to the state, thereby to whoever party is in power, millions of acres of prime land are sold to foreign investors on concessionary terms. Under the governing tribal oligarchy all economic and financial institutions are owned and controlled by the regime through state or party owned corporations and affiliates. Large infrastructure projects such as dams, railroad, highways, industrial and agricultural projects have been undertaken through international, bilateral loans and private investments. Depending on the source the Ethiopian economic development has risen from six to ten percent a year in the last decade, resulting in huge disparity of income, that leaves the ninety-eight percent of the people in wretched poverty, and endows Ethiopia with the highest brain drain in the world. Debt servicing has also risen over $1.2 Billion per year, in addition to capital evasion that amounts to more than $20 Billion since 2004. Corruption and malfeasance at all levels of governance are the modus operandi of the regime; with the extensive political and financial support of the US the EU and sundry “democratic” countries.
Presently, we have entered a New Year 2007 EC and a new national election is to be held in a few months, most probably with the same concocted results as the preceding one in 2009 when the TPLF/EPRDF won by 99.6 percent. On this occasion the regime says barefacedly to have spent some 900 million Birr from the national budget to promote its own election, at the expense of the public. However, due to the general disappointment, particularly with donor countries, that its loutish and coercive governance is causing, and fearing that the growing opposition might turn violent, the regime may be pressured to make some nominal political space to affiliated parties, while maintaining the monopoly of power until the next election in 2012 EC. The emergence of a burgeoning middle class seeking to maintain its status in a stable and lawful political system, plus foreign elements wanting security for their investments, may induce the regime to give some space to some selected parties. Nevertheless, in spite all the political gerrymandering, sooner or later the failure of the deficient regime is inevitable.
The question is what bodes for our country after the present tribal clique will lose powers in one way or another? Is it going to be a tribal battle ground by parties contending for power of some kind? Or even secession? Or, a most likely outcome, another civil-cum-military dictatorship will replace the present oligarchy? Where are the Ethiopian people in all this tumult played over their destiny? What do the powerless multitude of the opposition factions promise? Will it be another half-backed compromise under the macabre dance of peaceful struggle, or political reconciliations over the head of the real stake holders, the people of Ethiopia?
The following is a personal comment for those indulging in the Politics of our country; it should not be construed as a self promotion. Given my age, I am quite conscious my own limitations, I merely want to impart my views about the future politics of our country. This message is mainly addressed to the young generation; it does not exclude the veterans of our political melee, but for those with an unsavory past as high officials of the delinquent Derg regime. After all politics are implemented by people, its success or failures are measured by their integrity and irreproachable behavior.
When in 1948 we joined the UN forces in the Korean conflict, the standard of living of the Korean people at that time was not better than our own, the same could be said of China’s after the traumatic ordeal of the cultural revolution. When I visited Panama in 1949, but for the American Base and some official sites, the city was a slum with a couple of hotels and sundry shops, today Panama rates with 61% of well-being on a world scale. While these countries and others around the world have achieved a high degree of development, why have we failed? Is a legitimate question to ask ourselves?
Ethiopia is a great country whose history dates from ancient times, our land is varied and rich that contains large natural resources of all kinds, from agriculture to minerals, and abundant water and energy potentials. The Ethiopian people are intelligent, courageous, cultured and diligent in all endeavors. Their social mores and moral values are second to none. With all this spiritual and material wealth in our hands, shouldn’t we have achieved higher standards of living for our people? Why have we become a swarm of terrorized and servile citizens deprived of their birthright in their own country? Ethnic and cultural divisions have been imposed on us by the point of the gun, creating disharmony and animosity amongst people. It is time to say NO to this unjust and abusive rule.
The remedy for this sad situation is a national democratic political movement genuinely geared towards restoring freedom and justice to the people of Ethiopia. It is not ideas and methods that are lacking, a plethora of political programs have been pronounced by many parties; most of them advocating democratic principles in their own terms. However, personal rivalry and diverging objectives that prevail amongst leaders, has impeached the formation of a united national front. Consequently, no party has been able to establish a constituency large enough to play a leading political role. The only successful political coalition was Kinijit, whose winning a popular majority was revoked forcibly by the regime. Kinijit’s ambivalent leadership was also instrumental for its demise.
Assuming that the regime will remain in power for the next five years, I believe that the opposition must belong to the young generation whose future is at stake. They would have the contemporary vision and the energy to regenerate and build a new Ethiopia. In fact this is already occurring in the country where the youth have already taken the vanguard of the democratic movement as exemplified by Skender Nega, Andulam Arage, Reeyot Alemu, “group9” bloggers, and scores of journalists and activists, the Semayawi Party and countless others that are persecuted and imprisoned around the country. What they need is a strong support from all elements of the society, particularly from the community in the Diaspora that enjoys freedom of action with abundant human and material resources.
Unfortunately the opposition parties in the Diaspora are fragmented and the leadership still tied up to defunct notions and groups that do not reflect the present realities in Ethiopia. Neither have they been a convincing voice to influence the foreign affairs establishments of relevant countries. Win or lose the struggle for freedom is at home, aspiring for power over ninety million people from ten thousand miles away borders the fantastic. Internally Ethiopia is not lacking of talented people capable of leadership. I believe that the youth in the Diaspora should organize itself into an effective and credible pro-democratic movement representing legitimate parties at home, instead of wasting time in useless pal-talk and sundry debates. It is time to open a new page of Ethiopian history. I will be glad to help with whatever means I can dispose.